I started at the NSW Telco Authority three months ago as part of my second rotation in the NSW Government Graduate Program. As with most grad programs, it has been bittersweet – there have been highlights, there have been low points. Like many, I was filled with apprehension about my next rotation, but I was settled because of the reputation of the NSW Telco Authority as a fast-paced, organised and high performing workplace.
Three months in, I received an opportunity to step into a role that I have been wanting to do for a long time (check back soon for updates!) and I had to make the decision: do I stay for the experience, or do I chase my dreams?
Well, there are many things I’ll take away from Telco: what makes the difference between a high performing and a not-so-high performing policy unit, how write Cabinet Submissions, how to bring values into all areas of work and life. I learned more in my three months at Telco than I have anywhere else.
But the greatest pleasure that I have had by far is that of working with Kate Foy, the Managing Director of the NSW Telco Authority.
Whenever I attend a seminar on leadership, almost always do they bring up this image:
The point that is usually being communicated is that a good leader works with those around them, and leads from within, whereas a boss makes orders from above. The best leaders that I have worked with have been the ones that have worked horizontally: with and within their colleagues. Rowan Kunz, who I really should write something about, is one of these people.
Kate Foy is another.
Values seem to come and go. For some people, it is contextual. For others, they are fluid. For others, it is an absolute. In an organisation, it works best when you see it at all levels, and most importantly, by its leader.
As a Managing Director, Kate is different. On our first day, she made the time to welcome each one of the 8 grads to the floor during a welcome morning tea, and asked us about our backgrounds and our home agencies. She asked us what we were looking forward to doing, and how she could help. She was genuinely interested in each and every one of us, and knew us all by name and virtue very quickly. This, I discovered, was not just because we were Grads, but because it’s who Kate is.
Each week, Kate writes an email to the floor and catches up with people as she walks by. She lets everyone know what she’s up to and what she’s been up to during the week, and gives updates and insights into her meetings. Each email is different: ‘Hi chums!’, ‘Hello sports fans!’, ‘Hello super heroes!’ Kate isn’t just a faceless MD in an office. She gives us insights into her life, successes and challenges. She celebrates cultural and social diversity. She asks us how she can help and what she can do for not just the team, but for you. She is quick to acknowledge and celebrate successes, and also quick to troubleshoot and problem solve when issues arise.
As a young woman, it can be hard to find good female executives as role models in the workplace. With women making up just over 25% of the senior executive service in NSW, but only making up 60% of the NSW public sector as a whole, it is a heartening when you do find someone who can proudly state is one of your role models.
In my little book of female role models, Kate is (*points upwards*) up there.
A situation came up where Kate needed to make a difficult call for me. An MD never simply wears one hat – it is her duty to wear multiple. Financial, ethical, HR… there are many that the ordinary individual in a company wouldn’t have to remotely consider in making a decision. In making her decision (and it was a difficult one), Kate stood by the values Telco aspires and achieves with thoughtful consistency.
She was honest: ‘If I were selfish then I would…’
She was transparent: ‘I will need to talk to HR…’
She was accountable: ‘But putting on my XYZ Champion hat…’
Kate was consistent in all areas, and as an MD should, thought about things that I even had not previously considered. I am proud that Kate made the decision she did.
Although it was not good news for me, it was an honour to be a part of, and to witness, how she came to the decision. It inspires me to be a better person, and with a vision of myself in the future, to be a better leader.
In response to my resignation, Kate gave me two pieces of advice:
1 – ‘At the end of the day, all we have is our reputation, care for it and guard it well.’
2 – ‘Second, be kind. Kindness goes a long way. Kindness is not being a pushover, or a bleeding heart; true kindness demands courage, humility, vulnerability, confidence and resilience.’
These words have really resonated with me because Kate has left me with a lasting legacy – a hard-working and kind woman of immense integrity – and she has inspired me to be the same.
Between her making chicken sounds, doing football cheers when a manager walks towards the meeting room and kicking ass in the name of the NSW Telco Authority, Kate is pretty cool person.